ZeroTo510 Accelerator Launches New Season

By Andy Meek

Dr. Steve Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, is clear-eyed and unequivocal about what success looks like for the startup accelerator program his foundation operates and which launched its new season this week.

“You can measure us by the attention we get, or you can measure us by whether we get companies funded,” said Bares about ZeroTo510, the foundation’s medical device company accelerator that has begun its second season. “We’re trying to build businesses and commercialize ideas. And in this business of scalable startups, if you don’t get funded – all of this is just a party.”

ZeroTo510 kicked off its new season – which will send six teams of entrepreneurs through 12 weeks of intensive, mentorship-driven instruction and hands-on activities – with a low-key open house event.

Applicants from around the country and two international applicants vied to participate in the program, the name of which alludes to the goal of helping participants achieve the critical U.S. Food and Drug Administration 510(k) pre-market notification filing. As in, the companies are going from zero to the 510 filing.

It’s operated by Bioworks and Innova – a co-investor in ZeroTo510 – and the program is an initiative of the Greater Memphis Regional Accelerator, a program funded by Launch Tennessee and the state under Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s INCITE initiative.

INCITE is a program that supports innovation around the state, and it’s also an acronym that stands for Innovation, Commercialization, Investment, Technology and Entrepreneurship.

"We’re trying to build businesses and commercialize ideas. And in this business of scalable startups, if you don’t get funded – all of this is just a party."

–Dr. Steve Bares
President and executive director, Memphis Bioworks Foundation

Allan Daisley, director of entrepreneurship and sustainability for Bioworks, said the high quality of applicants this year made the final selection a challenge, but that’s par for the course.

ZeroTo510 works with people experienced in their fields who tend to have practical ideas about what the marketplace will accept in the way of new products.

It’s just a matter of sculpting those participants into entrepreneurs in charge of companies.

“Because of the globally significant medical device industry here in Memphis, we are able to get these startups in front of decision-makers and mentors who can help guide them to success,” said Jan Bouten, a partner at Innova and a ZeroTo510 adviser.

Bares said the program’s mission could be sliced into three components: inspiration, funding and growth.

It’s about lining up companies with the best ideas, putting them in front of potential investors and giving them the tools they need to build a business that will grow over time.

Each ZeroTo510 company gets $50,000 in initial seed capital from Innova and Memphis-based venture capital firm MB Venture Partners. The program culminates with Demo Day on Aug. 8. That’s when the participants will pitch to a group of investors.

Finalists chosen at that point could get as much as $100,000 in additional capital and the opportunity to further develop their business.

One of the companies in the inaugural cohort of ZeroTo510 in 2012, Restore Medical Solutions, completed the program with a full round of Series A venture funding, and four others got follow-on funding of $100,000 each.

Six teams will participate in ZeroTo510’s 2013 cohort.

AIS Inc. is a local team led by a biomedical engineering student from the University of Memphis. It’s building a leadless, single surgery GPS- and Bluetooth-enabled hybrid cardioverter defibrillator.

Better Walk is led by a team of biomedical engineering students from Georgia Tech that’s making a redesigned crutch that eliminates a common crutch complaint – the discomfort in the underarm due to axillary nerve damage.

The third team is Cuff-Gard, which is led by a nurse from West Memphis and has designed a disposable skin barrier to protect and extend the life of blood pressure machine cuffs.

Health and Bliss is led by a team from Baltimore and is attempting to revolutionize the way people detect strep throat by introducing a self-contained screening test.

The fifth team is Mobilizer, which has a device that’s modeled after a wheeled walker but includes shelves and attachments that help carry around other things like IV drips and oxygen tanks.

And lastly is SurgiLight, which is led by a team that’s designed an LED light for use in surgeries.